Saturday, February 21, 2009

Training - Palomar

Today I got that California monkey off my back - I rode up Palomar Mountain.

But I feel like I kind of cheated.

In prior years, my Palomar attempts were gradual build-ups, multiple failed attempts building on one another. I'd ride to the base of the climb, then maybe due to weather or time or something I'd have to turn around. I'd adjust my attempt plans accordingly (start earlier, bring more gear, ride harder, etc.) and then try again. My failed attempts were always good tries, once even riding to within a mile or so of the top. I used these attempts to judge riding effort, pace, and to find refueling points.

The biggest challenge wasn't necessarily the climb, although it's a hard climb at best. It lay in the fact that I had to ride a couple hours just to get to the base of the mountain, over some nasty (to me) climbs. Then, while climbing it, I'd have to constantly judge whether or not I'd be able to make it back to home base. This meant timing food and fluid replenishment (in a place where I could go buy stuff without having my bike stolen, hence the importance of scouting out such places) not just for the climb but also for the long ride back.

Because of all the false starts to the top, I had a good idea of what to expect where, how long it would take, and how I would feel in various places along the route. I could usually finish a 6 or 7 hour ride within a 15 minute window of my expected/calculated ride time.

Today, this time, it didn't work like that, and that's why I feel like I sort of cheated.

See, we just drove to about a mile of the base of the climb, got ready, and rode up the thing. So no recons (I haven't even ridden inland this year), no practice climbing, no nothing. Just a lot of out-and-backs on the PCH, a much flatter, much more wind-swept road.

I've also been fighting this stupid cold for a while, waking myself up with violent coughing fits last night. I ended up getting much less sleep than normal and wasn't very coherent in the morning. On the way to the ride I could feel the hot breath coming from my mouth, something I only feel when I have a fever or if I've overheated in a race or ride.

The ride today was planned by a local superstore (so is it local?) and attracted a lot of attention. The mayor of Escondido even did the ride, although last we heard (when we started descending) that she was still working her way up (the Amgen Tour folks were waiting for her to pass by some Amgen banner or something at the top of the climb).

There had to be between 150 and 200 riders (three groups, with each group broken up into 3-4 groups of 20 or so) at the start. This meant, among other things, that I could pace myself off of riders around me, not just pedal madly up the hill. This really helped rein in my "out of the starting gate" efforts as the climbing started because I didn't want to pass the group's unofficial leader (a rider from the local superstore).

After almost toppling over trying not to run into the guy in front of me, I decided it'd be okay to pass one or two guys. Rich followed each of my moves, and we even passed the group leader guy. Soon we were pleasantly isolated, sometimes passing someone, more often getting passed by someone else.

Although I strayed up to 400+ watts (usually when trying to build up speed after slowing in the group), I managed a respectable-for-me 200-210 watts for the 40 minute-to-me pre-climb. At some point I moved over to let Rich pull, and he immediately picked up the pace to a comfortable-to-him pace. I struggled for a bit, wondering if my adled brain was playing tricks on me. I simply couldn't pedal as fast as Rich.

That's when I realized I was in the 23. I'd shifted into the 23 on a flatter bit and forgot, and now I was wheezing so loudly I couldn't hear myself think. I shifted into the 25 and started to flounder. The higher cadence and the prior struggle in the 23 had me starting to overheat. Ominously I had to ask Rich to ease a bit at one point since I had problems maintaining a 300 watt effort to stay on his wheel. His relaxed demeanor seemed completely at odds with my heavy breathing, shoulder rocking laboring.

We eased a bit at the flat bit between the pre-climb and the climb proper. I drank a bit since I knew that this was the best place to drink for a while.

And then we veered left onto South Grade.

Rich immediately rode away from me, keeping company with the group of riders around him. I dropped back quickly, my cadence dropping into the low-mid 50s. A lot of riders passed me, even the very friendly and encouraging group "leader" from way back.

I started recognizing some familiar landmarks, the lower altitude ones imprinted in my head much better than the upper ones. Once I got above a certain height I was in "Three-peat" territory, areas I've ridden only three times in my life (two summits and one very high failed attempt). I don't remember very much about this section, and I still don't - grinding along in the 39x25, goosebumps and chills running through my body, well, I don't remember stuff very well when I'm like that.

I do remember a few things:

- "Connecticut Coast - that's why you're having so much trouble on the climb." This from a white haired guy who probably had 30 pounds and 6 inches in height on me. And passing me.

- "I haven't ridden next to snow since I moved from New Hampshire 11 years ago." This guy obviously flew by me - New Hampshire means hills.

- "Good job." From a lot of folks riding by me. Like as in passing me.

- Guy on a full suspension mountain bike, knobby tires, with a backpack and two large bottles, pedaling nonchalantly right by me. Yeah, he passed me too.

- Junior kid (I saw him a couple days ago on the PCH and he dropped me then too), had to be 10 or 11, flying past me. He passed... well, you get the idea.

- Nurnburger ex-World Champion racer blasting by me like she was on a motorcycle. I had actually stopped to take my soaking wet cap off. I may or may not have taken a picture or two, but, wow, she positively flew by. Fastest rider to pass me by far. I'd have difficulty going that pace on the flats.

- Actual motorcycles roaring up and down the mountain, pretty much scraping their thighs in each turn.

- Being told "Only 200 more vertical feet to go!" In case you don't know, 200 vertical feet, after climbing to about 5000 vertical feet, is really hard. And takes, oh, like a bazillion hours to do.

- If you run out of fluids and start overheating, just keep climbing until the temperature drops. The chilly air (usually where the snow is) will cool you down pretty effectively.

I got to the top and Rich looked at me and grinned.

"You don't look too happy."

No kidding. When I'm tired I look upset, and I was tired. I could barely climb off my bike. I'd run out of fluids with maybe 20 minutes of climbing left, maybe more, but whatever, I was hot and thirsty. I got some Gatorade and a Coke, did my postcard thing, and started piling on all the warm clothes I'd struggled to carry up the hill.

Off went the short finger gloves (even if they were the new team gloves), on went the "-25 deg F but still trim looking" long finger ones. The inside jersey got zipped up, the outside long-sleeve too, and the vest went on top of that (and all new kit stuff). I decided against using the team shoe covers even though I brought them - too much for a guy that can't climb well.

At some point I asked Rich how long he waited before I got there.

"How long did you wait for me? Like 5 minutes? 10 minutes?"

He grinned. "Well, if you really want to know..."

He capped the climb (South Grade) in 59 minutes, based on his arrival time. He didn't know when we started it, but I did. My time? About 30 minutes after his. The kicker is that he never got to the groveling point like I did, and I got to it at, oh, a minute into the climb.


We futzed around with the GoPro camera a bit. I bought batteries for it (the original ones died), we remounted it on my seatpost facing backwards, and, about an hour after we got to the top, we set off down the mountain.

I covered the camera with my hanbd when I ran over the water running across the road (from melting snow next to the road) - I didn't want the spray to get on the lens. Then, after we got below the snow line, I let the bike free. I shifted once, felt it wasn't enough, and tried to shift again.

No luck. 53x11.

But still, I didn't pedal a lot, not on the actual Palomar bit. I'd let the bike build a head of speed, brake, and dive into the corners. It felt exhilarating, swooping left and right and left and right, brakes totally predicatble (not like last year when I had carbon rims on), tires feeling totally planted (those Krylions really performed well), and, for once, my hands, neck, and arms didn't get totally crampy. I think it helped that I didn't do 2 or 3 hours of riding just to get to Palomar.

This boded well for the rest of the descent (the "pre-climb") which has more pedaling. Normally I'd have to balance pedaling and uncramping my arms (or neck or hands), but this time I didn't have to do too much of that.

We got back to the start point and I started feeling pretty good. Coasting for the better part of 30 minutes will do that, and it was a lot warmer out too.

When we got home I checked the GoPro. Arg. Only 6 minutes or so ended up saved, the rest of the descent got lost because the GoPro turned off or something (?). So not too much action captured on film (or in SD memory as it were). Maybe at some point I'll parse it and put it up, but it's not too interesting.

Now to watch the stage coverage on TV.

Tomorrow? Watch the last stage.

12 comments: said...

Aki - I'm so happy to see you made it out for the ride. I had a very similar experience. Being out on the mountain was very inspirational and motivating. However, I'll be very humbled when watch the Pro ride it today. For myself, It was the first time I've climbed the South grade (I did the East Grade last year) I wish I would have known you did the ride I would have liked to have met you in person. Anyways, another day. I'm glad you did it.

Aki said...

I'll be at the start and finish for Stage 8, for sure the finish wandering the Expo area.

I can't wait to see the pros do the climb.

Anonymous said...

ha i made it halfway up between valley center and the base of palomar... i was dying!!! i just parked it on the 76 and actually ended up having a blast with the guys i met there...i was however very disappointed my ride the whole day and swore i would go back and conquer the sucker!!

c-rob said...

so did you make a video?

Aki said...

Palomar is tough, but once you get in a rhythm, it's definitely doable. I struggled the whole time, that's for sure.

I took vid, but only a few minutes worth, and I don't know what to do with it yet. I hope to take more vid tomorrow and the day after, before I leave here. said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

The bike shop posted some pictures... Can you find Aki?

Aki said...

Cool! I'm dying at picture (DSC00)883, 885, 886. A LOT of people were before me. Those pics were shot at 5000 feet. I remember a photog lower down but I didn't see any of me earlier.

734 is the Nurnburger rider, ex World Champ, she was flying up the climb. said...

I'm 765.

I was wondering who she was when she blew past me.

This is the other photographer

Aki said...

457, 458. I look horrible haha. My bike always looks so small under me, like I should have a 58 TT on a 52 ST. Cannondale? Bennati bike? Hello?

765 in the other set? You must have been flying. I started in the fourth (?) group of Group One, if that makes sense. Do you remember when you started? said...

I'm photo 409 on Rick's site and 765 on Brent's flickr set. I feel the same way about looking too big for my bike. It must be something in our heads. You look fine if that is any help.

I was in the third group of Group One and took the advice and started out at a real slow pace and worked my way up. After all is said and done, I kept a consistent 7-8 mph pace pretty much up the South Grade. I wasn't fly for sure... sounds like we went about the same pace and because you started behind me we never crossed each other. When I got to the top I rested for about 5-10 minutes and headed down the East Grade solo. I had to get back to SD before 2pm.

Aki said...

We went up slowly but I think we were geared a bit high (39x25). To maintain rpms until South Grade we actually passed the front of the group. But then I fell apart at SG and my friend maintained that pace. He went extremely conservative but still eventually reached the top about 30 minutes ahead of me.

We hung out for a while at the top (an hour?), then we headed back down South Grade. I told my friend that it was much more interesting than East Grade, just based on the turns. We had an absolute blast descending SG. So we did, what, a 24 mile ride? And we spent about 4 hours doing it. haha. I told someone at the start/Harrahs that my "budget" is 5 mph, and if I'm over that I'm happy.